City begins new hearings on old annexation
- Troy Foster
- Madras Pioneer - Opinion
>Council revisits decision made in March in light of a recent appeals court decision
July 2, 2003 — The Madras City Council, backtracking because of a potential process dispute, is revisiting an annexation proposal it approved four months earlier that brought the industrial park and surrounding land into the city.
A challenge to the Land Use Board of Appeals filed by Phil and Brigitte Morsman, owners of Tops Trailer Court, is the catalyst of the new round of hearings. The Morsmans are challenging the annexation on several fronts, among them a claim that the annexation was a land-use decision that was not given proper public notice according to Oregon law.
The city contends its annexation of more than 700 acres in March was a legislative decision.
An Oregon Court of Appeals ruling in May suggests annexations are land-use decisions — a direct contradiction to Department of Land Conservation and Development policy that defines annexations as legislative decisions, city officials said.
In light of the May ruling and a potential setback from LUBA, the city council opened a new public hearing on the major annexation at its regular meeting last Tuesday.
It was met by fierce criticism from two area residents.
“I’m still greatly opposed to any annexation up there because the city has nothing to offer us,” Phil Morsman told the council.
Morsman’s trailer court consists of 55 to 60 low-income homes, he told the council.
“It’s completely absurd to put us, who are low income, into your city,” he added.
Morsman, who owns 7.14 of the roughly 14 residential acres up for annexation, was flanked by several residents who live along Birch Lane, but most of them sat quietly throughout the hearing.
Doug Shepard, a retired attorney, told the councilors their efforts to annex Tops Trailer Court and the residential areas along Birch Lane was not only unreasonable, but contrary to law.
Shepard said state law requires cities to annex property contiguous to the city, but the council’s annexation traveled up a narrow stretch of Highway 26, “leapfrogging” over the Hillside and Jefferson Street areas.
“Cities should not be able to pick and choose where they annex and leave other areas out,” Shepard told the council.
The council also received letters in opposition to the annexation, at least one complaining of being coerced to annex through the city’s urban growth management agreement with Jefferson County. It requires property owners within the urban growth boundary to sign consent to annex forms if they intend to add a $10,000 improvement or change the footprint — or foundation — of a facility.
Shepard, recognizing that the council’s hearing could be a formality linked to the Morsman appeal, urged the council to reconsider.
“We ask you, with all due respect, to redraw the boundary and remove the R-1 (residential) zones,” Shepard said.
The council offered no immediate response to the opposition and agreed to leave the record open for seven more days at Morsman’s request. Deliberations on the annexation will begin July 22.
Madras Mayor Rick Allen said after the meeting the council chose to open new hearings “to be on the safe side.”
Public notices were sent out to property owners as if the annexation is a land-use decision. “The annexation will still go forward,” Allen said. “In any event, at the end of the day, we still have over 50 percent of signed consents from the people in the area.
“It’ll be annexed once we go through all the legal stuff.”
The city council voted unanimously in March to annex 759 acres that consisted mostly of the industrial park, but also included 80 acres of open space and 14 acres of residential land.
City Administrator Steve Bogart said the council is maintaining that all the property is now part of the city, despite the appeal.
The Oregon Department of Revenue has determined the annexation is complete, Bogart said.
“The state appeals court rendered their decision on May 5, which was two months after we did our annexation, so all of this stuff gets jumbled,” Bogart said.
If it survives legal challenges, the annexation is expected to inject more than $125,000 of annual revenue into the city’s tax coffers eventually. Industrial park business owners were given a seven-year tax phase-in plan to ease the transition.
The industrial park annexation, plus 117 acres of residential property owned by William Hoffman annexed last month, will increase the city’s land mass by 45 percent.